Disabled Farmer Takes Center Stage in “Farm Hands” Play
From his wheelchair, a “farmer” recently shared with Chicago theatergoers the joys of harvest and watching the sunset from a combine cab.
“No better view than my cab overlooking the pasture,” said farmer Mike, portrayed by Chicago actor Bob Ness, who is a quadriplegic.
Audience members viewing the play, “Farm Hands,” chuckled when the actor-farmer compared the size of farm equipment he drives to a Chicago cab. They reacted thoughtfully to his comment that farm life might be the answer for some city dwellers’ anxieties.
“Most urban people don’t consider what it is like to live in a rural area,” says American Blues Theater director Heather Meyers. “Our major goal (for developing the one-man play) was to tell a story – not to feel sorry, but to consider things they (audience members) don’t personally experience.”
Chicago playwright Wendy Whiteside wove memories of her Kansas farmer father, who is afflicted with polio, and her disabled grandfathers into her play.
At one point during the play, which debuted in November, Mike refers to himself as “differently abled.” Whiteside says her father uses that term.
She not only brought the challenges of disabled farmers to the forefront, she also wrote information about AgrAbility Unlimited into her script. Earlier in the year, she interviewed Christian County farmer R.D. Elder at his Blue Mound farm and incorporated some of his views into her play. Elder also is “differently abled” and has a wheelchair. (Related: How AgrAbility Helps Farmers With Disabilities Return to Work)
“Farm Hands” will be performed in late spring as part of a play festival in Chicago. Details will be available at americanbluestheater.com.
As a gift, Whiteside gave AgrAbility the rights to her play, allowing the organization to receive royalties from future performances. “I want to help out any way I can,” she says. “I hope it raises awareness.”
AgrAbility Unlimited is a statewide program that has helped thousands of disabled Illinois farmers and their families. The joint program of the University of Illinois Extension, the Central Illinois Easter Seals and the Illinois Department of Agriculture seeks to promote independence for people with disabilities. AgrAbility offers education and help in identifying ways to accommodate disabilities and eliminate barriers for those with disabilities. For more information, visit agrabilityunlimited.org.